Monday, September 27, 2010

'Helping Rhonda'? & is Michael Moore the Left's Glenn Beck?

Rhonda Byrne may have been a tad late getting to her own party, but the positive-review-athon for The Pow-errrrr appears finally to have kicked in with a vengeance (no doubt with Amazon looking studiously the other way, if not actively participating in the conspiracy). All three of what we used to call "spotlight reviews" for the book are now glowing 5-stars, as are all 10 of the most recent reviews featured in the sidebar.

My negative review has been kicked down the stairs to the cellar...along with a thoughtful and quite-literary take from Kathryn Price that once held sway among the spotlights with a helpful rating of over 70 pe
rcent but can no longer compete with the recent slew of 100-percent-helpful 5-stars.


Speaking of unwarranted hype, last week I finally saw Michael Moore's highly engrossing logical quagmire, Bowling for Columbine. As far as I can tell, here is Moore's thesis:

The words racism and violence have almost the same number of letters, give or take, so draw your own conclusions... Not a single black person ever shot anyone in Detroit before the slave ships began arriving in the 1600s... If rich insensitive white folk didn't like fudge as much as they do, little black kids wouldn't have to take guns to school and shoot their classmates... If you use hairspray, you are probably not a sincere person. (ED. NOTE: On the other hand, if you wear a baseball cap...) The problem is that there are way too many guns around, except in Canada, where there are plenty of guns but the late Charlton Heston never owned a home, so there!... Poverty, meanwhile, is much, much worse when you don't have a lot of money....
Wow. And this film has not only been hailed as "brilliant," but boasts an enviable 96% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes?

Hey, how come you don't see Jon Stewart and Bill Maher ripping Moore to shreds? Maybe I just missed it....


Tyro said...

As far as I can tell, here is Moore's thesis

I can't tell if that's an attempt at humour, a dishonest hack job or a summary of a completely different movie. Since it's a disorganized blob of points, it isn't even a thesis. I'd think that even heavily biased people might find the time to mention one or two positives but you couldn't find a single thing to like, not a single point you agree with, not a single interview you thought was informative. It's not like you were watching "Expelled" or something.

I would be more interested (and far more persuaded) if you would just come out and make your own points rather than hiding behind an attack on a movie which, despite lofty educational pretentions is still meant to be entertaining.

Anonymous said...

Definitely check out "Manufacturing Dissent", a documentary about Michael Moore, in which he dodges the filmmakers in exactly the same way he gets dodged in his own films. There is also a discussion of Moore's very slanted presentation of facts. Great film!

Steve Salerno said...

Tyro: Let me say first of all that I voted for Obama, and I spent a fair amount of time making that allegiance clear (and savaging the GOP agenda) on this blog. So just in case people are wondering about my political agenda in attacking this film, I have none.

My point is that Moore does the same damn thing that Glenn Beck does: Throws a whole bunch of stuff up on the wall, makes absurdly simplistic connections between all of that material, and expects his fans (who are, of course, right-wing-haters) to basically jump up and have orgasms because they're cheering (and laughing along with him) so hard. The movie is a mess, and the saddest part is that it's clear by the end that Moore is doing exactly what he finds so loathsome in the other side: throwing fresh red meat to his audience.

Anyone who seriously proposes that Moore's films are merely intended as "entertainment" and should be evaluated on that basis...well, I'll be charitable about it and say you're kidding yourself.

Tyro said...

Steve - I generally agree with you and I don't mean to attack you or imply that you're blinded or jingoistic or whatever. I am saying that I can't glean any sense from your comments beyond dripping contempt. Was there anything you agree with at all? Was there anything in particular that you could highlight which you think is especially egregious?

Let's skip the Beck comparison unless you'd like to give some examples because Beck is so far gone with lies, racism and overt theological rants which are absent in Moore's works that I am again left wondering if you've lost some cogs or are again trying some ludicrous exaggerations. I've heard a lot of complaints with Moore's works and a lot of money has gone into attacking him and one or two points may stick but that's a long, long way from Beck's brand of lunacy. At least Moore uses genuine stats and has some level of fact checkers and is dealing with issues which really impact our lives instead of raving about some paranoid delusion.

Steve Salerno said...

I agree with some broad-brush concepts. I agree that gun violence in the U.S. is deplorable. I agree that there is too much poverty, and that too many wealthy people are far too detached from the problem. I agree that Charlton Heston was a sucky spokesperson for the NRA (of which Moore says he's a "lifetime" member) in big picture terms...though the membership itself reportedly loved him and rallied around him. I agree with what I thought was the strongest single element of his film: that there's a fundamental self-serving hypocrisy in this nation's approach to violence, and there was no better metaphor for that hypocrisy than the several scenes with the (Lockheed-Martin? Raytheon?) flak standing in front of a missile. Had Moore chose to develop those themes rather than falling back on cheap shots and cloying sentimentality (e.g. the way he handled that whole thing with the dead child at the end of the film), it would've been a much more powerful, and meaningful, film.

I worry that Moore is evolving in his career as a documentarian to the same sad place Stephen King eventually evolved as a horror novelist: where he basically "phones it in," knowing that his audience will lap it up anyway regardless of the quality of the output. You can be a polemicist without being a corner-cutting jackass about it.

roger o'keefe said...

I know you don't intend this as a political attack on Moore, but I have to say I think his movie could stand as a symbol for a lot of the so called reasoning that goes on on the left. And yes I've seen it.

You say he doesn't tie the logic together, but I submit the left's logic can't be tied together. It's as much of a mess as his film itself. Probably exceeded only by his latest, Capitalism A Love Story, which I've also seen.

Too bad the title Dumb and Dumber was already taken.

Tyro said...

The strongest memory I have of the film was the interview with Marylin (sp?) Manson, especially contrasted with the demonizing rants against him and other punk musicians. I thought that skewered the know-nothing demagogues perfectly, but beyond that the movie didn't leave much of an impression. Maybe there's some sort of movie in there, after all there's *something* screwy with the US with the huge number of gun deaths especially when compared with Canada (neighbour) and Switzerland (huge number of guns, relatively few deaths) and a movie which could intelligently explore the issue would be welcome. "Bowling" was definitely not that movie.

In general, I think Moore's gonzo stunts are suffering from fame and lack of inspiration, but they can still work. Take the trips to Cuba for medical care in his recent movie - I thought that got some laughs and exposed some real, significant issues so I don't think he's entirely phoning things in. Maybe it's a reversion to the mean?

I don't get the "the left's logic can't be tied together" comments and the venom heaped on Moore. I'm not saying you (and O'Keefe) are wrong but without specifics it looks like an incoherent scream rather than a provocative, intellectual discussion which I normally associate with your writing.

Steve Salerno said...

Tyro, you've taken a series of unusual and surprising turns in this thread. That's not a criticism. I'm just saying that you came out in a different place than I expected you to, based on your first comment yesterday.

I'm puzzled as to why you're so disappointed by the lack of a "provocative, intellectual discussion which I normally associate with your writing." (And thank you, by the way.) Basically what we have here is a movie that just didn't do it for me--at all--despite being an entertaining film in a "now what's he going to do next?" sort of way. Moore's work is usually bracketed at social commentary, not mere entertainment--and that was surely the case here--and in my view he failed utterly. As an "argument against guns," I thought the film was a disaster that failed on just about every level, from its internal logic (or the lack of same) to its use of melodrama and cheap sentimentality in an effort to make points that should've been made with a bit more insight and finesse. What more do you want me to say than that?

OTOH--for what it's worth--I think Maher's film, Religulous, is brilliant on both levels (i.e. as entertainment and argument). Does that help? I'm not being a wise-ass. Just askin'.

Cal said...

This is off-topic, but germane to the blog. The USA Today has an article questioning the tactics of the Get Motivated Seminars. I have noticed many ads in my local paper in the past few weeks about this very seminar coming to my area soon.

Tyro said...


Basically what we have here is a movie that just didn't do it for me--at all--despite being an entertaining film in a "now what's he going to do next?" sort of way.

I may have misinterpreted your comments. I see a lot of hatred directed at Moore for his politics (eg: O'Keefe's liberals sure are stooooopid) and I'll be the first to admit that this could encourage me to read more into comments than are really there. I still don't understand why you didn't like it but then I didn't like Religulous even though I'm an atheist.

Can we chalk it up to misunderstanding and oversensitivity and I'll try to roll easier next time.

Steve Salerno said...

Cal: Welcome back. Yanno, I get at least a couple of requests each month to either "look into" GMS or to give my opinion on it (which isn't much). Good to see the seminars getting some mainstream coverage.

Tyro: I think this is very interesting. You write, "I see a lot of hatred directed at Moore for his politics." I don't know whether you mean that you see it generally, or whether you mean that you "see it" in my comments about his film...but if it's the latter, this could be a scenario where people (e.g. you) are reacting in "circle the wagons" fashion simply because one of their own is being attacked. I remember that when I applauded MSNBC for taking Keith Olbermann off the Convention trail, I got a few perplexed emails along the lines of, "Now why would you do such a thing if you really support Obama...?" I would do such a thing because I try as much as possible to call a spade a spade, even if the guy I'm calling out is on "our side." I find Olbermann to be every bit as objectionable as I find Hannity.

Even in a practical sense, it doesn't help the cause if a guy like Michael Moore is out there making absurd arguments in the name of something I believe in. All it does is make "us" vulnerable to the kinds of criticism voiced by, say, Roger. Moore may please the choir by preaching to it, but he certainly isn't going to win any converts that way. And he's smart enough to know this, which is why I think he's being venal and disingenuous in his own way.

Tyro said...


I certainly saw a lot of something - sarcasm, anger, contempt, derision? - in your comment. Maybe it's the same thing that someone would say about, say, a M. Night Shyamalan film but since the comments were directly and indirectly political (talking about slaves, Moore's "thesis", Jon Stewart, etc.) I don't think it's unreasonable to think you were snarking about politics. I can see that it could be you were talking about bad plotting and poor communication but it didn't appear that way to me.

I remember after "Sicko" we were treated to any number of wonks who tried to attack Moore's figures. What we didn't see so much was that in most cases Moore had used more conservative numbers and understated the problems. I found the hatred directed towards him at that time was overwhelming, especially considering how irrational and deceptive many of the attack were. Maybe it was unfair to tar you with the same brush. If there was a misunderstanding, I hope you can excuse it as being not entirely unreasonable.

Even in a practical sense, it doesn't help the cause if a guy like Michael Moore is out there making absurd arguments in the name of something I believe in.

I'm of two minds. Of course you're right that if someone with a high profile makes absurd arguments then that's likely to harm that movement. However I've seen all too often how very reasonable, evidence-based, well-supported arguments are treated like they're complete garbage. I expect to see people saying that Moore makes absurd arguments no matter what he says and the only way to avoid it would be to not say anything which isn't a reasonable solution. In the end, I prefer to talk specifics so that we can judge for ourselves whether the arguments are valid.

When I see a lot of snark, political jabs and an absence of anything concrete I smell a hack job. Again, it may be an innocent mistake in which case no harm done on both sides, I hope.

I would do such a thing because I try as much as possible to call a spade a spade, even if the guy I'm calling out is on "our side." I find Olbermann to be every bit as objectionable as I find Hannity

I haven't seen the sort of jingoism, racism lies and demagoguery in Olbermann that I see in Hannity and the other Fox shills. There's a degree of hypocrisy and political opportunism (not to mention outright lies) on both sides which is always insufferable but does Olbermann cravenly defend every fart Obama makes like Hannity does to Bush and Cheney? I think its a common American mistake to think that because there are faults on both sides, the truth must lie midway. Maybe that's why US middle-of-the-road is seen by the rest of the world as hardcore right.

(Of course, "right" and "left" don't mean when they once did with repubs expanding gov't into bedrooms and churches, running up huge deficits and sacrificing civil liberties for collective "safety" - very un-conservative policies. But that's another rant... :) )

RevRon's Rants said...

I can't begin to describe how tiresome the constant ragging about the "left" and the "right" has become... but I'll try. Truth be told, both "sides" cling tightly to the same sense of entitlement, even as they deride the other side.

There is no such thing as a healthy society that doesn't have some socialist mechanisms in place, just as there is no such thing as a healthy society that doesn't encourage and support individual productivity. Yet adherents to what have become abominations of viable ideologies refuse to acknowledge that the only path to success lies in a combination of the two, rather than a blind allegiance to one ideology over another. Purity has become more important than progress, much less even a hint of parity.

We scream loudly, while refusing to listen or think, demanding what we feel is rightfully ours, while denying any responsibility to the general well-being, much less other individuals. And we wonder why voices like Hannity, Rush, Palin, and Moore are so powerful. Quite simply, they help us reinforce and justify our own narcissism by rationalizing our refusal to consider anything beyond our own priorities. And as long as we pay heed to the selfishness of their braying, we will remain locked into the cycle of failure and blame that leads us to believe the partisan swill that has replaced true debate and compromise, and change "sides" back and forth. When will we realize the absurdity of doing the same thing over and over, yet expecting different results?

Steve Salerno said...

Rev: I agree with you in principle and admire the elegance of your kind of well-moderated thinking. The problem is that the lunatic-fringe stuff works. I know that you have the Big Picture in mind when you talk about the "absurdity of doing the same thing over and over," but everything we know about real life tells us that, from a purely practical standpoint, repetition eventually does the job...even if what's being repeated is nonsensical. Witness the spectacular rise of the Tea Party, with its goofball sloganeering, as well as the indisputable power of negative political advertising. (We all say we're sick of it...yet regrettably often it's the dirtiest, most vile campaigns that allow some "hopeless" underdog to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.)

And really--if you think about it--what would a nation run entirely by Centrists look like? Would anything ever get done? Or are the polar crazies a necessary ingredient in the process that tugs us toward an uneasy (but sometimes effective) compromise?

Besides, we all like to talk about "eliminating fringe, label-based thinking"...but if it came right down to it, who's going to be the first to give up deeply felt beliefs in the name of consensus? Would you really want, say, Dennis Kucinich to sever his ties to the Left and become more congenial to the folks at Goldman-Sachs?

renee said...

Appropo of nothing - or perhaps everything - I wrote a piece a few months ago titled: "Thoreau had it wrong. We're leading lives of strident desperation."

Waiting to speak passes for what was called "listening" in years past.

Unfortunately for me, most of the time I just want to say, "Are you finished? Can you just shut the f--- up, now? Please?"

But I don't. Want to, but I don't. The polite, catholic school girl still quietly alive in me won't let me do it.

Steve Salerno said...

Waiting to speak passes for listening...

I don't know whether that line is original to you--it sounds like something someone would have said by now (wink)--but I love it. Which is to say, I love it in a tragicomic way, since it's so regrettably true.

Thanks for stopping by, R.

RevRon's Rants said...

"And really--if you think about it--what would a nation run entirely by Centrists look like? Would anything ever get done?"

I don't propose a nation run by centrists (if such a creature even exists), but rather a nation run by people of different ideologies and perspectives who are at least willing to listen to and consider ideas put forth by those of a different bent.

I lean to the socially liberal, yet to the fiscally conservative. As such, I know that some social initiatives which I'd love to see implemented must be belayed or even abandoned in the name of fiscal responsibility. I'm prone to press for those initiatives, yet willing to give ground when necessary. And that, as I see it, is what is sorely lacking in governance (or even in voters' priorities).

We as a nation need to realize that so long as "winning" demands that someone else lose, we'll never begin to make real progress. That obsession with winning at all costs is the nature of our partisan divide. Setting aside that obsession would render the notion of centrism obsolete.

RevRon's Rants said...

"everything we know about real life tells us that, from a purely practical standpoint, repetition eventually does the job...even if what's being repeated is nonsensical."

Perhaps we as a country need to look more objectively at the "job" that's getting done, and ask ourselves if it's really worth doing. The "job" as it's currently being done certainly doesn't fit the definition of good governance; it's really little more than a protracted power grab, staged in the form of an equally protracted pissing match.